Can Disruptive Skills Increase Your Paycheck?

Last Updated Sep 23, 2010 1:09 PM EDT

Most business schools don't feature courses on developing disruptive skills, but maybe they should. Over on the HBR.org site, Whitney Johnson blogs that a sure way to get a pay increase is to advertise your talents in this area.

Her point: The stock market historically values companies with successful disruptive innovations at a 30% premium. So why shouldn't people with these skills also be paid more?

"When we proffer to the marketplace a disruptive skill set," Johnson writes, "focusing on our distinctive innate talents rather than 'me-too' skills, we are more likely to achieve success and increase what we earn." Read her post, To Get Paid What You're Worth, Know Your Disruptive Skills.
What is a bankable disruptive skill? Johnson says a colleague pointed out her strong ability to "connect the dots between people and ideas, where others see no possible connection," and thus spot lucrative opportunities to cross-pollinate.

I like this idea of looking inside ourselves to identify strengths that seem to match well to an emerging business world where nimbleness, foresight and technical virtuosity can beat traditional assets of size, scale and manufacturing prowess. In a top-down, silo-ed world, Johnson's ability to connect the dots wouldn't be as valuable to an employer.

Yet I see two problems with this approach.

One, I think this works better when getting a new job rather than upgrading in your current one. Why? Because disruptive innovation works because established market leaders get married too much to the current business model and to the needs of existing customers -- they don't see threats or opportunities on the horizon. If you work for an established, successful company, disruption might be low on your company's "Must Have" list.

Problem two is that this approach requires a lot of work on your part to succeed. First, you have to define your skills in a language that many employers still don't recognize, even with the popularity of Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen's work in this area. And then you have to also sell the Big Picture, how the company is threatened or has a tremendous opportunity because of disruptive innovation, and why your skills can help.

So unless you are going to work for Clay (and Whitney actually does work for a Christensen company, Rose Park Advisers, this seems a Herculean task.

What do you think? First identify for us what your idea of a disruption skill, then tell us how you would sell it to an employer for higher pay.

(Photo courtesy Flickr user sun dazed, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.